By Frank Bean, a.k.a "Dad"
It may seem odd to bring in one's father for a guest article, but my father's in a unique position to comment on one of the issues cycling through the news right now. You may recall Wizard's recent post about Nebraska and partial qualifiers. I asked my father to comment on it, as he spent 25 years as a professor at the University of Texas, a number of which were spent serving as the faculty representative to the Athletics Council. Along with being a standout father, he's a big time sports fan. Like father, like son, I suppose. Frank Bean is currently professor of sociology at the University of California-Irvine.
The idea has been going around that the Nebraska football program has declined in recent years. The reason? Supposedly, because the Longhorns, when they joined the Big 12, threw their weight around and won a battle over the number of partial qualifiers (athletes with below minimum GPA's or test scores) that would be allowed in the new conference. Nebraska had relied on them heavily when it was in the Big 8. Texas wanted to disallow them almost entirely. Texas won the policy fight, some say, because they threatened to bolt to the Pac-10 or the Big-10 if they didn't get their way.
What's wrong with this line of reasoning? Actually, several things. First, who's to say Nebraska has declined? Sure they've lost more games than they used to in recent years, but then what big-time program hasn't? What school can say it hasn't had some sub-par seasons in the last decade? Not Texas. Not USC. Not Ohio State. Not Michigan. Etc. So maybe Nebraska didn't decline, maybe they've just been down for a few years. Last year, they were back up to 8-4, and their fans can't wait for this season. So maybe they're back, which if true would by itself put the lie to the notion Nebraska "declined" because of partial qualifiers. Anyway, time will tell, but one thing's for certain -- nobody stays on top forever like they used to.
It wasn't all that long ago that Nebraska had a Vince Young of their own.
Second, does anyone really think Texas would have gone to the Pac-10 or the Big-10 back then? Come on! Maybe they would now, because both the state and The University have matured and are less insecure (read provincial) than they used to be. But back then lots of people were wary of the competition those two heavy-weight conferences would bring, and not just on the playing field, but also between the universities and states they represent. Better a conference of schools from sparsely populated states, like those in the Big 8, that could be more easily pushed around, which was what Texas was used to in the old Southwest Conference. Plus, doesn't anyone remember that the politicians called the shots back then, and insisted that Texas go nowhere without A&M, Baylor, and Tech going, too? Do you think the Pac-10 or the Big-10 wanted Baylor or Tech? Not a chance.
So actually, Texas wasn't going anywhere. But maybe the Big Eight schools, including Nebraska, didn't know that at the time. In any event, coming from small TV-market states, they were afraid to call Texas' bluff on the qualifier issue.
Third, back then, under Berdahl, UT gave more weight to academics than before. This may explain Texas' stand on the qualifier issue more than anything. When I was at The University in those days, Texas football, if you recall, wasn't on top like it is now. I heard endless complaints that the reason was UT had to adhere to higher academic standards than other schools. Sound familiar? A bit like Nebraska now? In reality, it's a bogus argument. The truth is the schools that win are the ones who recruit best, coach best, and play best. And none of these is that easy.
So Longhorn fans, be thankful UT is up right now, because things change. Football cycles are not extinct. The competition these days is just too fierce, and lots of little things can go wrong. Just look at Mack Brown's early years, and just ask Tom Osborne. And watch out for the Cornhuskers.